Music shapes the mind and heart, connects with our inner self, melodies resonate within our inner ear and can transform an ordinary day into joyful praise. I grew up in a church with hymns, recognizable tunes and lyrics from by gone days, “The Churches One Foundation,” sweet hymns like “On This Day, O Beautiful Mother,” remembered from my Childhood, singing these songs in church and school. Then the church experienced the Second Vatican Council in 1965, literally opening the windows to let in some fresh air, “aggiornamento,” led by the inspiration of now Saint John XXIII. I don’t think he had a full comprehension of what was to follow. A few years later in the 1970’s five young men began studying for the priesthood in Saint Louis to be Jesuits. Tim Manion, Fr. John Foley, Fr. Bob Dufford, Dan Schutte and Fr. Roc O’Connor who were also composers in their own right. On September 29th they will participate in their final concert in St. Louis down the street from where they went to seminary so many years ago, a 45th Anniversary concert featuring their music spanning that length of time.
Most of us are so familiar with their music, we may not even pay attention who the composers are unless we read the name under the song number or song title in Breaking Bread. I had the privilege of hearing them for the first time in concert at the Los Angeles Catechetical Conference in 1976 when they sang in the Anaheim convention center arena in a participatory concert. They sang many of their own early compositions, I can’t tell you which ones, but I can tell you how they ended singing “Now Thank We All our God” that we can crucify by slowing it down to a dirge. That evening for the first time, I heard that song in a way I had never heard before sung with joy, delight and wonder, up tempo and from the heart. Everyone in the arena knew the words of the song and joined in possibly singing it for the first time from within their own hearts. Thanking God for all of God’s gifts, touching not just the rafters of the building with their exuberant voices but touching the heart strings within each person. It was so uplifting and memorable when 17,000 people sang together…… making a joyful noise…to the Lord.
These five men, came together to compose a new kind of church music, inspiring so many others, not for awards, accolades or self-aggrandizement, but to convey the words of scripture through music to touch the inner self, to inspire and motivate all of us to live our Catholic Christian faith. May we not be afraid as we cross the barren desert, sing to the mountains and let the valleys be raised. I give thanks to God for their years of ministry, their hard work, self-critiquing and willingness to allow the Holy Spirit to work through them to inspire faith communities throughout the world. May the Holy Spirit inspire us when we sing, when we make a joyful noise unto the Lord because they dared to do something new.
Father Larry Hendel, Pastor